Yes, that’s right — I’m suggesting CIOs should stop working on IT strategy. The days of developing a technology strategy that aligns to business strategy need to be behind us. Today’s CIOs must focus on business strategy.
Let’s face it: Does sound business strategy even exist today without technology? Most CEOs would likely agree that, unless you are running a lemonade stand, any successful business strategy must have solid technology at its core. The challenge for today’s CEOs is that, while planning business strategy in isolation from technology is sub-optimal, it remains the most common way business leaders develop strategy. And while there have been many great books about strategy, the specific challenges facing the CIO are largely absent.
My latest Forrester CIO client visits tell me economic uncertainty is actually helping IT leaders accelerate plans for the future. Sounds counterintuitive, right? Perhaps it’s just because I started in Europe, where the hourly ups and downs of sovereign debt crises cause government policy whiplash paired with market cap acid reflux. Most consider trying to plan anything in this environment, particularly slow-changing corporate IT systems, impossible. Or perhaps, as IT leaders, we’re still just haunted by the great tech recession a decade ago, and we just expect IT budgets will always be the target of corporate austerity efforts.
But one thing is clear: For some, uncertainty breeds paralysis. For others, the very presence of uncertainty offers a platform to drive clever and radical change. Consider two of the many stories about the latter I heard recently:
One IT leader uses uncertainty to reduce his dependency on Microsoft software clients. To be clear, every IT leader I met faces daunting budget pressure. This client’s business is producing basic materials for construction projects globally. Depressed demand for building materials means his company has turned otherwise dormant kilns for firing these materials into ovens for destroying old tires and drugs seized by police. Why? Because finding productive uses for capital investments helps (at least) service debt on that capital when current market demand disappears (and apparently, these kilns burn at such a high heat, they produce zero emissions — that’s cool).